A great advantage to having one of the world’s best training academies in our own back yard is that big touring productions such as Les Miserables and Wicked are invariably chock full of WAAPA alumni. Those graduates are generous in giving back to the institution that played a critical role in shaping their professional careers. We saw this earlier in the year with the Les Mis cast holding a Music Theatre Showstoppers concert at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre. On Monday night it was the turn of other performers from the storied Academy including many from the Wicked cast currently playing at the Crown Theatre.
Hosted by Lisa McCune and John O’Hara with Musical Direction and piano accompaniment by Kohan van Sambeeck (himself a recent graduate) it was an entertaining evening with an eclectic mix of songs and some nice surprises along the way. Sondheim is always a favourite at such affairs and so it proved with an early Medley and a couple of songs from Into The Woods.
An unmiked Lisa McCune kicked things off playing a sixteen and a half year old at her WAAPA audition singing Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera. It was a key theme of the night as McCune and O’Hara would periodically share their own and ask their colleagues to recount memories from those formative years at the Mount Lawley campus. There were some funny anecdotes but also the inspiration of having such luminaries as Hugh Jackman and Cate Blanchett talk to students along the way. It was all very relaxed and informal with McCune and O’Hara warm and engaging.
Highlights from the evening included that Sondheim medley where the whole ensemble gave us excerpts from songs such as Everybody’s Got the Right, Send in the Clowns, Being Alive and Johanna. The other medley – Somewhere - arranged by David King and featuring songs from The Wizard of Oz, An American Tale and West Side Story was beautifully sung by Katie McKee, Jennifer Peers, and Tom Handley as the lyrics weaved together in impressive style.
A favourite of mine, The I Love You Song from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, brought a smile as Edward Grey, Sophie Wright and Katie McKee gave a joyous version. Alexander Lewis and Brendan Hanson played up to the wonderful Agony and McCune herself launched into the lyrically stunning On The Steps Of The Palace to complete the Into the Woods double. Sophie Wright again and John O’Hara got their Freddy Mercury on with a soaring rendition of Who Wants To Live Forever from We Will Rock You while Matthew Lee Robinson and Jennifer Peers enjoyed the cheeky inclusion of The Song That Goes Like This from the hilarious Monty Python musical Spamalot.
Suzie Mathers, currently playing Glinda in Wicked, had excelled in the snippet of Send in the Clowns and was prominent again with Alexander Lewis in the duet Falling Into You (The Bridges of Madison County). The evening finished with a nice touch as the third year musical theatre students coming off the superb Legally Blonde ventured on stage for the penultimate number and then the second and first years joined them and their illustrious predecessors for You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel. As with the Les Mis concert there was a real sense of passing on the baton to the next generation of upcoming musical theatre stars.
An enjoyable evening of light banter, wonderful singing and excellent piano work, WAAPA Grads Say Thanks was a one off concert as part of 2015 Music Theatre Educator’s Alliance Conference (a coup for WAAPA as it’s the first time it’s been held in the southern hemisphere). It starred Lisa Adam, Edward Grey, Tom Handley, Brendan Hanson, Glen Hogstrom, Alexander Lewis, Suzie Mathers, Lisa McCune, Katie McKee, John O’Hara, Jennifer Peers, Matthew Lee Robinson, and Sophie Wright; directed by Edward Grey with Musical Direction by Kohan van Sambeeck.